By MIKE MOORE
The Journal Times
MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. (AP) — Just days after a 10-year-old boy won an award for his ham radio contributions, his parents are worried local regulations will force them to take down the backyard tower he uses to communicate.
The village sent letters beginning last fall, threatening to fine Jim and Cathy Markstrom or order the removal of the tower behind their home at 1639 Stoddard Lane. On Wednesday, the Mount Pleasant Plan Commission is expected to make a final decision on the issue.
The couple see it as a mixed message. The Volunteer Center of Racine County gave Samm Markstrom its Heroic Award on Friday, in part for relaying reports of a Kenosha tornado to the local National Weather Service office in Sullivan last year.
The couple said Samm, who has cerebral palsy, has enjoyed an immense boost in self-confidence since becoming more involved in ham radio. He said his favorite aspect of the hobby is “just meeting new people.”
“He can’t figure out how he’s winning an award and his hometown wants him to take it down,” said Cathy Markstrom, 36, who runs a local disaster volunteer training program.
Two residents complained that the tower interferes with television or telephone reception, Logan Martin, community development coordinator for Mount Pleasant, said Monday. Village officials then determined the couple never received zoning approval to install it.
The complaints confused Samm’s parents, who said all of their closest neighbors wrote in support of their tower. Jim Markstrom, a 35-year-old engineer and professor, said a contractor assured him the necessary permits had been acquired before putting it up in 2007.
He’s been trying to work out an agreement with Mount Pleasant since the letters arrived, hiring an engineering firm to document the tower’s safety. But the rules would require the tower, which is 62 feet high including the vertical antenna, to be shrunk to less than half that height, Jim said. That would limit communications to roughly the Racine and Kenosha areas, he said, not nearly enough for Samm to pass along urgent weather notices like the one that helped achieve his award.
Markstrom, who is amateur radio coordinator for Racine County, said the tower fits within Federal Communications Commission guidelines that typically govern them. He wonders why other operators with high towers in the village who have had no such trouble.